A fork in the road is better than one in the eye.
It’s not an actual saying, but it sure does seem appropriate in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.
Based on James Sallis’ book of the same name, Drive begins in the dead of night with a mysterious man speaking into a mobile phone in rather cryptic terms.
This is, well he doesn’t seem to have a name, so we’ll just call him Driver. And tonight his job is simple; he must drive.
So far, so self explanatory.
Driver’s motives for tonight’s clandestine rendezvous are fuzzy at best. On the other end of his earlier phone call were tonight’s employers, who’ve hired him to be their wheelman.
Driver’s rules are simple. He doesn’t ask any questions, he just drives. For five minutes. Once these five minutes are up, so is he. This really hits home to his less than altruistic companions when Driver abandons the getaway car as soon as his five minutes are up, and slips into the night on foot.
When he’s not leading a morally flexible life at night, Driver navigates a rather solitary existence during the day; as a mechanic and occasional stunt driver for his shamelessly opportunistic employer, Shannon.
The only distraction in Driver’s life is the ubiquitous pretty girl next door, Irene, who happens to live in the same apartment block with her temporarily fatherless young son.
As Driver is drawn further into their simple yet happy family unit, so Irene’s estranged husband’s release date from prison looms larger. It’s not long before Driver reaches his own particular fork in the road, where he must decide upon the path he wants to take.
Drive is a curious film. Having no idea of Sallis’ source material before viewing, I couldn’t say whether Hossein Amini’s adaptation is faithful to its roots or not. But the way it plays out, I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the case.
The opening credits are striking, as italicised, neon pink handwriting replete with synthetic score seemingly straight out of the eighties brings the necessary information to life with panache.
This juxtaposition of an essentially simple story set in modern day Los Angeles, with a soundtrack usually reserved for science fiction films, is bewitching.
And as the understated relationship between Driver and Irene, played by Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan respectively, develops in a very sweet and almost adolescent fashion, it’s hard not to let your mind wander towards the darkness that lies ahead.
This duly arrives in bi polar fashion, as Drive jack-knifes from genteel and touching romance to graphically over the top violence and destruction.
Unfortunately, after the initial adrenaline rush of this has worn off, this is where I took the exit for Drive’s ride.
There seems to be no real reason for this sudden change up, other than Sallis having a hard on for Bret Easton Ellis’ body of work.
Naturally, Drive is neither as bitingly funny nor brilliantly satirical as anything Ellis has come up with on paper or the subsequent film interpretations of his work.
What does stand up to comparison is Ryan Gosling as a lead to rival other actors such as Christian Bale, who broke through into mainstream film consciousness with his peerless portrayal of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
Gosling’s commanding presence in his schizophrenic incarnation of Driver, as well as the gratuitously implied violence in Drive’s third act, has echoes this rather masterful noughties pitch black comedy.
It’s just that the laughs of the former have been replaced by cool car sequences and music in the latter.
So by all means, give Drive a whirl this autumn. It’s the most stylish film of the season.
Just don’t take your eye off that fork.